Last winter, after Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump delivered a landmark speech calling for a ban on all Muslims traveling to the United States, 9-year-old Jibran Ali came home from his Virginia school with an urgent question.
“Am I still going to be allowed to be friends with Axell?” he said, referring to his best friend.
For his mother, the Defense Department’s most senior Muslim American civilian, it was a disturbing moment.
As a special advisor to Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, Iram Ali oversees the hundreds of White House political appointments to the Pentagon. Her mandate, as tasked by the Obama administration, is to recruit and attract people of all ethnic, educational, and religious backgrounds — a policy the White House believes will foster a better-informed and more effective class of national security leaders.
That commitment to inclusiveness is something she tells her son is a bedrock principle of the United States. But for Ali and other Muslim Americans working in U.S. defense jobs, such ideas are increasingly under assault in an election year when a major party nominee is calling for special ID cards and a database to register all Muslims, insulting the Muslim parents of a U.S. soldier killed in Iraq, and castigating Islam as incompatible with Western society.
“My husband told our son there’s always been people who were viewed as the negative part of society,” Ali said during an interview at her office in the Pentagon. “It’s our turn now, and it’ll be OK.”